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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
String Quintet No. 1 in A major, Op. 18 (1826) [33:02]
Original Minuet of String Quintet No. 1 (1826) [5:26]
String Quintet No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 87 (1845) [31:57]
Fine Arts String Quartet; Danilo Rossi (viola)
rec. 23-24 March 2007, Il Bagno, Steinfurt, Germany
NAXOS 8.570488 [70:23]
Experience Classicsonline


The best of Mendelssohn can be found in the chamber music. These vibrant, brilliantly played performances bring further confirmation of the rewards this repertoire can bring. This prolific composer is known by only a small proportion of his remarkable output – though with luck that should be challenged during the bicentenary year of 2009 – and it is always rewarding to explore beyond the well-known pieces. Ample proof of this is found in the string quintets. 

The disc begins with the finer of the two works, the Quintet in B flat from 1845. This is among a host of compositions that challenge the misconception that there was a falling-off in quality in the music dating from the later phase of Mendelssohn’s tragically short life - he died at only 38. The sheer élan with which this piece opens is breathtaking. The music requires playing of a high order to make its mark, and it receives this from the Fine Arts Quartet and their guest violist, Danielo Rossi. 

In his quintets Mendelssohn opts for Mozart’s extra viola rather than Schubert’s extra cello, and the results are richly satisfying in terms of texture and sonority. The Adagio, positioned third in the sequence of four movements, gains particular reward in this regard, aided by a warmly atmospheric recording. While as a whole this fine performance does not quite capture the spirit and vitality of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble (Philips 420 400 2), the coupling of the two quintets has an obvious appeal, whereas the Academy offers the famous and splendid Octet. 

The Quintet No. 1 is another composition, like the Octet, that comes from Mendelssohn’s gloriously productive teenage years. For a child prodigy composer, we should go to Mendelssohn, rather than to Mozart. This music is fresh and alive, and shares so many of the general characteristics of its successor from twenty years later that it is tempting to suggest that he modelled the one composition on the other. In the process of its creation the Quintet no. 1 lost a Minuetto and gained an Intermezzo, so a further attraction is that the alternative movement is included as an appendix. The Intermezzo, at Andante sostenuto, is the slow movement the original version lacked, and therefore it changes the perspective and balance of the whole work, with its refinement and elegance. 

The booklet contains all the essential information, but in the English version of the notes there is a half empty page and a very small font size. This makes no sense, and betrays a lack of editorial guile. 

Terry Barfoot 

see also Review by Simon Thompson

 


 


 




 


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